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Biographical entry Fatti, Libero (1901 - 1981)

MRCS 1925; FRCS 1933; MB BS London 1926; LRCP 1925.

13 January 1901
Johannesburg, South Africa
29 March 1981
General surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Libero Fatti was born on 13 January 1901 in Johannesburg of Italian parents, Luigi and Eliza Fatti, pioneers who had come from Sansepolcro, a small town in Tuscany, in 1896. He was educated until 1915 at the German school in Johannesburg and then at St John's College. After matriculating he started his medical training at the School of Mines in Johannesburg, but after one year he sailed to England to continue at University College and University College Hospital. As a student he spoke German, French and Italian fluently and he spent his vacations in Europe becoming an expert skier - a sport he continued to enjoy well into his seventies.

On qualification in 1925 he did the round of house jobs at University College Hospital, where he was fortunate to work under Wilfred Trotter. He later formed an abiding friendship with Ivor Lewis and it was largely the influence of these two master surgeons which made him adopt thoracic surgery as his life's work. In 1934 he was appointed general surgeon to Hillingdon Hospital where he started his thoracic surgery. He pursued this at the Brompton under J E H Roberts, Tudor Edwards and Clement Price-Thomas and then spent six months with Evarts Graham in St Louis, USA. He was then appointed surgeon to the new Harefield Chest Hospital whilst still keeping his post at Hillingdon. He had become a most experienced surgeon and elegant craftsman, and at this time was amongst the first to perfect the dissection technique of pulmonary resection. He was also a master of the difficult thoracoplasty of Semb. During the war years he became acquainted with Lady Florey, the co-discoverer of penicillin, and with her he developed methods of treating pleural infections which remain valid to this day.

In 1948 he returned to South Africa being appointed the first thoracic surgeon in Johannesburg, at the General Hospital as well as at Baragwanath. With his usual enthusiasm and devotion he built up a department which attracted many young surgeons. He was the father of thoracic surgery in South Africa and in 1948 performed the first indirect heart operation. The emotional and physical stresses involved resulted in a coronary thrombosis in 1949 from which he made a complete recovery. He continued working until 1968.

On retirement to his farm he indulged in his hobbies of sailing, carpentry and fruit growing with the same boundless energy he had displayed when in practice. He had a passion for travel and visited Red China, Indonesia, Australasia and the Galapagos Islands. He was the gentlest of men, with infinite enthusiasm and sparkling charm. He was blessed with a happy marriage to Mavis Havemann in 1940, they had three sons and a daughter. He died on 29 March 1981.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1981, 283, 994; S Afr med J 1981, 60, 79].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England